Blood-Sugar Breathalyzer May Spare Diabetics The Pin Prick

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

Soon diabetics may be able to use a pain-free breathalyzer device to easily monitor their blood-glucose levels, according to new research being presented at the 2013 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Antonio, Texas this week.

Developed by Ronny Priefer, a chemist from Western New England University, the device uses nanometer-thick films made from of two polymers that react with acetone, an organic compound that correlates to the blood-glucose level in the breath of diabetics.

When a person breathes into the device, the acetone in their breath changes the nature of the polymer films. The device is then able to sense the nature and degree of the change and quantify the patient’s blood-glucose levels.

“Breathalyzers are a growing field of study because of their potential to have a significant positive impact on patients’ quality of life and compliance with diabetes monitoring,” Priefer said. “What makes our technology different is that it only accounts for acetone and doesn’t react with other components in the breath.”

While Priefer’s prototype has produced promising results, it occasionally gives inconsistent readings due to breath humidity and high temperature requirements.

“The breathalyzer we currently have is about the size of a book, but we’re working with an engineer, Dr. Michael Rust at Western New England University, to make it smaller, more similar to the size of a breathalyzer typically used to detect blood alcohol content levels,” he said.

Priefer said he has two clinics lined up to conduct patient trials from late 2014 through early 2015. The trials are designed to compare readings across the breathalyzer, conventional finger-prick testing and blood sample testing. The chemist said he plans to test the breathalyzers in an uncontrolled setting in about two years.

The experimental breathalyzer is just one of many devices designed to make blood-glucose testing less invasive for individuals with diabetes. According to a report published last month in Review of Scientific Instruments, a team of German researchers has developed a method that uses infrared light to sense blood glucose levels.

The report described a new device that applies infrared light to the top of the skin and measures the amount of glucose in the fluid within and beneath skin cells.

“This opens the fantastic possibility that diabetes patients might be able to measure their glucose level without pricking and without test strips,” said lead researcher Dr. Werner Mäntele, a professor at the Institut für Biophysik, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt. “Our goal is to devise an easier, more reliable and in the long-run, cheaper way to monitor blood glucose.”

The researchers said their method uses a process known as photoacoustic spectroscopy (PAS) to measure an amount sugar by its absorption of infrared light. The team’s device works by sending a painless pulse of laser light onto skin. The laser pulse is then absorbed by glucose molecules, in the process creating a sonic signature which the study authors call the “sweet melody of glucose.”

The sonic signature allowed the German scientists to detect sugar in skin fluids in just a few seconds.